The fifth round of the Asphalt Rally Championship of France and the Clio R3T France Trophy took to the tortuous twists and turns of the mountains of the Midi Pyrenees last week-end, Welsh rally driver Sara Williams and co-driver Mark Glennerster finishing a creditable ninth in the latest round of the Renault series, the rally attracting over one hundred entrants.
The temperatures in the Pyrenees were high, putting pressure on both cars and crews, particularly when they hail from Wales, where the ‘hillsides’ weather is usually cooler.
The first day included four special stages, the first tackled at mid-day and some thirty six kilometres long, the longest stage Sara had tackled in her rally career.
Developments on the car proved a great improvement, the turbo antilag system using higher pressures and making the Renault engine much more responsive, as did the grip and handling after discussions with Michelin, a factor that made a massive difference to the pace Sara was able to set over the long hot tarmacadam stages.
It was by no means all smooth going however, stage two a shorter twelve kilometre test, but made tricky by the presence of loose gravel not seen on the rally practice ‘recce’, but dragged onto the road by cars cutting corners. The first long stage saw a few spots of gravel but the second was described by Sara as ‘like driving on marbles’! That first day saw the opening two stages repeated, after a forty minute Service Halt in Lissac, deep in the French countryside some six hundred kilometres from Paris. Temperatures had soared, around fifty degrees on the road surface that was actually melting in some places, and that coupled with the increasing gravel made going more treacherous, but Sara and Mark were still able to improve their times over those set in the morning. Service followed, the cars then impounded overnight, before six stages on the second day, weather cooler due to increasing cloud cover, but increasing humidity made driving and co-driving effort in the Clio that much more exhausting.
Two stages of twelve and ten kilometres were followed by another long run of thirty one kilometres, thankfully over better surfaces and less gravel, particularly as all three were to be repeated in the afternoon, following a further Service halt.
That last loop of stages had a sting in the tail, as the Renault Clio lined up to take the start of the last long stage raindrops began to spatter the windscreen, and although Sara and Mark were told that it was raining in Rodez, where the rally would finish, there was little detail on conditions on the thirty six kilometre stage between them and the finish, tyre choice becoming difficult. At around the halfway point the asphalt ahead could be seen as glistening black, and clearly very wet, conditions very slippery for several kilometres then drying out, only to return to heavy rain again. Those conditions were repeated throughout the stage, needing rapid reactions from Sara at the wheel, and from Mark on the route notes, to keep the Clio on the road and up to speed. With tyre grip random to say the least, a finish was vital, and as good a time as possible the result, the Brecon Car Rentals, Millers Oils, Excedy Racing Clutches, Motordrive Seats, and the Mibau Stema Group backed Renault clearing that final stage successfully after over two hundred kilometres of flat out driving through the Pyrenees on the third round of the Clio RT3 France Trophy Championship.
The result – on the pairs first visit to the Rallye du Rouergue.- saw them secure a forty sixth place overall, and ninth Clio home. FIA Women in Motorsport Commission member Sara commented “The three events so far in the Championship have all been new to me and very different, but I’m learning a lot on every one, and we are upping our pace. We are already looking forward to Round Four, the Rallye du Mont Blanc at the end of August, in the ski mountains between Geneva and the famed Matterhorn”.